The act of running is demanding. Every footstrike delivers anywhere from three to seven times your body weight in impact force. Running breaks your body down.
The demands of running can dehydrate you, deplete your glycogen stores, create microtears in muscle fiber, and (temporarily) compromise your immune system. While you need to log the miles in order to become a better runner, it’s during the rest and recovery phase that your body heals, adapts, and gets stronger.
With a little attention to the rest and recovery phase, you can bounce back more quickly from challenging runs, reduce the chances of aggravation/injury, and improve your overall running performance. Leverage a few (or all) of the tips below to expedite recovery.
Knock back some water and electrolytes (immediately following your run)
Whether you were simply cruising through an easy three-miler or blazing through a handful of tough intervals at the track, you likely lost a few ounces (or pounds) of sweat. If you didn’t know, when you sweat you lose more than just water. You lose electrolytes (sodium, magnesium, potassium, and calcium are the big ones) as well.
Water helps regulate body temperature, remove waste, transport energy to our cells, and protects our joints. So, replenishing water you’ve lost via the act of running is critical. Doing so can improve recovery, minimize cramping, and reduce the chances of injury.
But, you want to replenish electrolytes as well. Potassium permits the movement of fluids and nutrients across your cells’ membranes, allowing them to carry on activities such as contraction of muscles. Too little potassium and your body will struggle to generate the nerve impulses to control muscle contractions. Too little sodium can result in your body retaining too much fluid, which can have dangerous consequences.
Immediately following your run, try to knock back a beverage with water AND electrolytes. I’m a fan of NUUN, but there are tons of products out there that you can marry with a bottle of water to help expedite the rehydration process.
Walk around for 5-10 minutes (immediately following your run)
When you run, lactic acid and other toxins accumulate in your legs. While you may feel like collapsing, curling up in the fetal position, and crying after your run, try to resist this urge. Try to keep moving.
Try to simply walk at an easy pace for 5-10 minutes following a tough run. The simple act of walking can help increase blood circulation to your legs. Fresh, oxygenated blood circulating in your legs will help flush out the lactic acid and other waste products in your legs. This can also help speed up the recovery process, repair micro-injuries, and reduce muscle soreness.
An easy cooldown walk can also help relax your muscles, lower your heart rate, and bring your breathing rate back to homeostasis. It’s also easy to knock back an electrolyte drink while you’re doing a cooldown walk, thus killing two birds with one stone.
Eat something with a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio (15-30 minutes following your run)
While you may not necessarily feel hungry following your run, it’s critically important to ingest something. Many sports scientists have identified the 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio as the magic formula for expediting recovery. As it so happens, chocolate milk has this magic formula (32 grams of carbs to 8 grams of protein per serving).
Chilled chocolate milk also goes down pretty easy after a run. If chocolate milk doesn’t work for you, try to grab something that has the magical 4:1 ratio and get it in your system within the first 15-30 minutes following your run. It’s immediately following your run that your body is optimally positioned for recovery. So, carpe diem!
The carbohydrates will help restore your muscle’s energy stores. The protein helps in recovery and repair of your muscles. Timing is important with this one because if you wait a couple hours, your body’s ability to refuel drops off by about 50%.
Get friendly with your foam roller (30-45 minutes following your run)
In lieu of getting a quality sports massage, spending a little quality time with your foam roller is the next best thing. Spending a little time with the foam roller is a form of self-myofascial release.
Quality self massage with a foam roller can help remove adhesions from muscles and connective tissue. It can also increase blood flow to your muscles and improve mobility.
I’d recommend a solid 10-15 minutes with the foam roller, giving everything some TLC. If you identify any areas that are particularly tight or uncomfortable, give them a little extra attention.
Ice, ice baby (30-45 minutes following your run)
While taking ice baths has fallen out of favor with some, it’s still a technique used by many professional athletes. It’s also a technique I’ve used countless times to bring myself back from the dead after innumerable, brutal long runs. I’m not saying you need to do it ALL the time, but it can be very effective for those particularly grueling runs.
Executing a proper ice bath is pretty simple. Draw a cold bath. Throw on a wool sweater, a ski cap, or whatever else you need to keep your upper body warm. Grab a hot cup of coffee, a large bag of ice, and something to read.
Lower yourself into the cold bath. Dump the bag of ice in the tub. Soak in the ice bath for 5-15 minutes.
Ice baths are not fun. But, the general idea is that soaking in a cold tub can help reduce inflammation in your legs and expedite recovery. The science around the efficacy of ice baths may not be crystal clear, but it’s a technique that has always helped me recover quickly.
If you want to knock your recovery out of the park, include ALL of the techniques above in your recovery ritual. If you REALLY want to ROCK your recovery include all of the techniques above AND do all of it within 45 minutes of completing your run.
Want to hear more from Marathon Matt? Find out more about his coaching and running experience at www.marathonmatt.com!